Hail to the Chief (reader?)

In an interview with NY Times lead book critic Michiko Kakutani, President Obama discusses the books that he read while serving as Leader of the Free World.  One series that helped him gain perspective on his political troubles was Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past (known best by its first novel, The Three-Body Problem):

It wasn’t so much sort of character studies as it was just this sweeping –

Kakutani: It’s really about the fate of the universe.

Exactly.  The scope of it was immense.  So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty – not something to worry about. The aliens are about to invade! [Laughter].

If he doesn't like Panera's, I am sure we could move the Beamer meeting elsewhere.

If he doesn’t like Panera’s, I am sure we could move the Beamer meeting elsewhere. Photo credit: Doug Mills/NY Times

Mr. Obama further reveals that he is pen-pals with novelist Marilynne Robinson (best known for her spiritual generational novel, Gilead).  And his most recently finished novel was Colson Whitehead’s Civil War fantasy, The Underground Railroad.

Given his reading preferences, I would certainly invite Mr. Obama to a Beamers meeting.  Maybe if we can get the Whitehead novel on the schedule and Mr. Obama is in the area …

Nor any drop to drink 

It slices, it dices, it cuts through red tape ...

It slices, it dices, it cuts through red tape …

At the start of a new year, the Beamers turned resolutely toward the Future.  Not a cheery Future, alas, but a realistic one of wars over water rights, right here in the US.  Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife depicts the struggles to survive in a drying Southwest, where states launch military raids to prevent other states from getting a drop to drink, and refugees mass at borders, desperate to migrate away from the perpetual deserts that used to be Texas and New Mexico.  But, would the Beamers be willing to accept any of them?  Continue reading

A clash of “Ego”

An unsurpassed vision of the Future, set 16 years in the Past

An unsurpassed vision of the Future, set 16 years in the Past

In the New Statesman, speculative fiction grandmaster Michael Moorcock reminisces on his friendship with grandmaster Arthur C. Clarke, and in particular about the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which film did not turn out to be the quasi-documentary on space travel that Sir Arthur was hoping it would be.  Unfortunately for the British author, noted for the rigorous scientific backgrounds of his fiction, the American director, Stanley Kubrick, favored elusive, ambiguous imagery over plain-spoken narrations, as Moorcock details in the introduction to a new edition of Clarke’s novel published by the Folio Society.

Even Clarke was not sure how to rock a Star Baby to sleep.

Even Clarke was not sure how to rock a Star Baby to sleep.

Though unable to watch the pre-release cut of the movie, upset by Kubrick’s cuts of his voice-over work and inclusion of scenes that emphasized the tedium of space travel, Clarke was reconciled by the success of the film, which translated into the success of his novel and a demand for sequels to draw out answers from Kubrick’s unexplained images.  “Each man was able to produce his own preferred version,” Moorcock concludes, thus forestalling yet another “book or movie?” debate.

William Tenn’s Final Story

wnyconvenushavewegotarabbiWilliam Tenn (the pseudonym of Philip Klass) was a writer of comic science fiction. He was published extensively in Astounding Science Fiction and Galaxy Science Fiction.

Among his best known stories is “Venus and the Seven Sexes.” 

He was given the Author Emeritus honor by the Science Fiction 220px-fantastic_adventures_195110and Fantasy Writers of America in 1999.

Klass retired from writing in the 1970’s, but he wrote one final story in 1974, “On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi.”

“The story turned out to be a small monument to Sholem Aleichem, the nineteenth-century writer who was known as the Yiddish Mark Twain,” Klass later mused. “I asked myself what kind of science-fiction story might Sholem Aleichem have written if he were alive today?”

Click here to read or listen to the story.

Paging Dr. Obama

Maddie Stone on io9/Gizmodo reports on the annual “top 100” most popular scientific articles (by volume of discussion in the news and on social media) as listed by the scholarly analytics tracker Altimetric, where the #1 entry is United States and Health Care Reform: Progress to Date and Next Steps, written by President Barack Obama.  The article was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and, while not peer-reviewed in the traditional sense, was fact-checked for accuracy before being published.  It is his second publication in JAMA, following a commentary piece written during his first campaign in October 2008, introducing the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”).

Whatever it was, it was not easy ...

Whatever it was, it was not easy …

It was a year for health themes, as Ms. Stone notes that the #2 article involved the incidence of medical error as a leading cause of death.  So Mr. Obama’s writing was well-timed, even if his successor may not be amenable to his advice on next steps (though his comments on the difficulty of enacting changes in a period of ‘hyperpartisanship’ will likely prove true for Mr. Trump, as well).

Otherwise, our science was pointed sky-ward, with the #3 article covering the discovery of gravity waves and the #4 article looking at the evidence for the “missing” giant Planet 9, lurking perhaps on the outskirts of our solar system.

Preparing for the "Grand Finale", Cassini-Huygens takes a ride 'round the rings. Image: NASA/JPL

Preparing for the “Grand Finale”, Cassini-Huygens takes a ride ’round the rings.

Some of that cosmic science is likely to leak into 2017, too, as George Dvorsky reports (also on io9/Gizmodo) that we will have a passing of the orbiter torch, so to speak, when the Saturn probe Cassini-Huygens runs out of fuel and, after buzzing the rings, is sent into Saturn’s atmosphere for disposal to prevent any contamination of its (possibly) life-bearing moons.  Meanwhile, Juno has taken up orbit around Jupiter, not far above the cloud tops, so some spectacular images of Jupiter’s bands should be streaming Earth-ward fairly soon.

A not-too-perfect Stranger

Can a person carrying a book be all that bad?

Can a person carrying a book be all that bad?

On a brisk December evening, a hardy band of Beamers gathered for a brisk discussion of A Stranger in Olondria, the debut novel by Sofia Samatar.  A coming-of-age story and a ghost story and a love letter to the printed word all in one, the various flavors intrigued but somehow did not move the Beamers to like it. Continue reading

Nine T. Rex’s in amber, with plumage

National Geographic is reporting on a recent discovery in China of a piece of amber from Myanmar (Burma) in which, along with Cretaceous plants and an ant, is a piece of dinosaur tail, with feathers clearly displayed:

It's like a boa wearing a boa!

It’s like a boa wearing a boa!

The amber specimen had already been worked by jewelers shaping it into an oval form, which is bit of a mixed blessing, as it occasioned some loss of the sample but did also create a cross-section of the dinosaur vertebra and preserved soft tissue around it, which led scientists at China University of Geosciences to conclude that the animal was not an early avian as the vertebrae are articulated and not fused, as in birds.  The feathers are also not flight but ornamental feathers, meant for display or thermo-regulation.

Possibly the greatest pendant piece, ever!

Possibly the greatest pendant piece, ever!

The revolution will be televised, but on “mute”

Award-winning sf author Cixin Liu (The Three-Body Problem) has published a think piece in the NY Times Turning Points magazine on the rise of robotic systems and artificial intelligence.  His forecast is not a pretty one:

“As A.I. whisks us from place to place … we will look out the windows, as unaware of its plans for us as a poodle on its way to the groomer’s.”

Shades of Jack Williamson’s “With Folded Hands”!  As Mr. Liu predicts, the robot revolution may be a quiet one, punctuated only by cries (or groans) of regret.

It's 9 am. Commence twiddling!

It’s 9 am. Commence twiddling!

Grimm and grimmer?

John O’Neill, publisher and editor of Black Gate web magazine, is reporting that author-artist Shaun Tan (Academy Award winning short film The Lost Thing, The Arrival) is publishing a book of illustrations of the sculptures he has created to accompany his re-imaginings of the classic Grimm brothers fairy tales like “Hansel and Gretel”.


Not too sure how to get *that* witch into the oven …


Ripples in the pond of the Imagination, no doubt.

The Singing Bones has been published by Arthur A. Levine Books this past October, and it features an introduction by fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes and a foreword by modern-day fabulist Neil Gaiman.  Time to lay down that trail of bread crumbs to the local bookstore!

How do I radiate thee? Let me Geiger counter the ways …

The Science Fiction Poetry Association has announced the winners of its annual poetry contest, with Dwarf Form (10 or fewer lines), Short Form, and Long Form (50+ lines) poems selected.  Winners, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers are all on display on the 2016 contest web page on the SFPA website.  The judge, Michael Kriesel, poet and reviewer and past President of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, provides comments on each of his selections.

The poems range from the quick snacks like Susan Burch’s haiku (Dwarf Form 3rd Place):

speed of light —

how quickly you think

I should get over it

up through Stacey Balkun’s fairy tale coda “Gretel at Menlo Mall 1996” (Short Form 2nd Place) and Wendy Rathbone’s cosmic musings on aging and the changing beliefs of life, “We Shall Meet in the Star-spackled Ruins” (Long Form 3rd Place):

after the heat-death

we shall meet in the

star-spackled ruins

of December

The Hugo and Nebula crowd do not know what they are missing.

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